15 AUGUST 1947, Page 1

The Powers and the Ruhr

Progress towards the talks on Ruhr coal, which have at last begun in Washington, has been so erratic and hesitant that it would be optimistic to look for quick and definite decisions. The British and American representatives are by no means agreed in advance on either of the central questions of technical management and socialisation, and the whole course of the discussion may be distorted by the pull of French interests. But despite these complications there is reason to think that the problems have been ranged in the right order, at least for the purposes of study. The technical problem of maximising Ruhr coal production has been put first. Where else could it have gone? Despite the valid British proviso that this matter depends on future supplies of food and other consumer goods, everybody knows that the solution of these problems will for the most part have to be found by the Americans. Nor are they being unreasonable on questions of management. There has been a sudden end to the contention that only American methods and drive were necessary to achieve a vast increase in production. And the French complication is least obtrusive at this point, since France, like everybody else, wants as much Ruhr coal as she can get. Again, on the subject of nationalisation of the mines, the American thesis that the question should be shelved for five years is sensible enough. The best argu- ment that Mr. Bevin has been able to produce for nationalisation is that the Ruhr industries must not be allowed to revert to their old owners, and there is no good reason to believe that they would. The miners themselves, who have recently asked once more that the Ruhr mines should be transferred to the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, provide some guarantee of that. On the other hand they introduce a further factor into the nationalisation question, but there is no reason to believe that an Anglo-American agreement would fail because of that factor. The question of the level of industry rightly comes last on the immediate agenda. It is a little academic in view of the present low level of steel production, it involves a much deeper consideration of French views than has yet taken place, and in any case it has been reserved for a three-power conference to be held in London shortly.